Homeschoolers are often portrayed as awkward social outcasts, products of a homeschooling community that is bizarre if not positively cultish (see: the opening scene from Mean Girls). So why do the parents of over two million children in the United States, including hundreds of physicians, choose to homeschool their kids? Here is my experience and some wisdom from other physician homeschoolers.
Why would you even consider it?
The reasons are as diverse as the families themselves. For most, it is because they feel that home-based learning can better serve their children and provide a high-quality education. For children who have special needs, or medical/behavioral challenges, home-based education can afford more individualization than traditional school-based education. Other parents want more time with their kids to spend on character formation or religious instruction. Still others feel that local schools are poor, and that private schools are not affordable (even with an MD salary). And even physicians with access to great local schools sometimes choose homeschooling because it allows more diverse learning modalities, such as travel or natural exploration, that help to foster a love of learning.
There are other practical benefits to homeschooling as well. Most homeschoolers can finish their work more quickly at home than they could in a classroom, since learning is individualized and can move at a faster pace. There is also no ‘downtime’ for classroom management, school assemblies, or travel to and from classes. Kids have more time to play, read, or explore outside. An added bonus, if not a specific reason for homeschooling, is the flexibility it affords. With an EM schedule, my shifts do not fall during banking hours, so if my “weekend” is a Tuesday and a Thursday, I can still see the kids during my days off. We can travel whenever we want, not beholden to school vacation schedules. For most families, however, a combination of reasons leads them to step off the traditional educational pathway and forge out on their own into the wilds of homeschooling.
How can you make it work?
As with the reasons for homeschooling, the ways that people make it work are also varied. Most homeschooling physician women who are the primary instructors work part-time or have cut down significantly on clinical work (eg working 1-2 days per month). Some homeschooling physician moms take advantage of opportunities to work from home, with flexible work like writing test questions, doing chart reviews, and telemedicine that can fit into a homeschooling schedule. Some share the responsibilities of homeschooling with their spouse. Others have spouses who do most of the homeschooling. In my case, my husband quit his job as a theoretical chemist to stay home with our four kids, teaching the two older ones while watching the younger two.
The rates of homeschooling vary by state. However, in many areas there are groups of homeschoolers who form co-ops and meet one day a week to experience classroom-based learning with other students. The academic rigor and degree of parental involvement vary for different co-ops. Some are more arts- and activities- based, while others provide an academic framework that is continued throughout the week. Some require parents to stay and participate in the classroom, while others are drop-offs. Co-ops can be a good mediating option that gives kids the opportunity to learn basic classroom etiquette and turn-taking, while providing a community of friends for the kids (and parents!).
But won’t my kids be unsocialized and unacademic?
There’s no reason to think so. Most homeschooled kids, rather than having less socialization, actually have a more diverse socialization. They tend to interact with children of many different ages, as well as with adults, rather than only spending time with children their own age all day, every day. Like many other large families, mine balances swim lessons, homeschooling, play-time with neighborhood friends, family time, our homeschool co-op, gymnastics classes, piano, church, and other home and group activities. We were first inspired to homeschool after meeting the high-school aged children of several homeschooling families and realizing that they were much more mature and better adjusted than we were as teenagers.
When it comes to academics, homeschooled children on average perform better on standardized tests than children in public schools and have higher rates of college graduation. Of course, much of that difference could be selection bias, based on the types of families who decide to homeschool. But even conservative assessments suggest that homeschooling your children is unlikely to be detrimental to their academic advancement.
How would you go about starting?
Begin with some basic research and investigation. As my husband and I pondered the decision to homeschool, I went about it with my usual type A approach: I bought a bunch of books on homeschooling, I read through websites on my state’s requirements for homeschooling, I looked up local co-ops, I joined my state home educator’s Facebook group, I went to a local homeschooling bookstore and browsed through the curricula, I attended a meeting with a group of women from my church who homeschooled, and listened as the more experienced moms shared their wisdom with newbies and other contemplators like myself. So when I became pregnant with our 4th, and my husband decided that it made sense to stay home with the kids, we knew that homeschooling was a viable option.
Next, think about the logistics of homeschooling. Figure out who will do the homeschooling. Will one parent do all the teaching? Will you share the responsibilities? How will you divide the labor? In some families, one spouse does the planning and makes the curriculum decisions, while the other one does the day-to-day teaching. Consider your family finances, both in the short- and long-term. Will one parent cut down their hours significantly or quit their job? Will it be possible for them to re-enter the workforce once the children graduate or re-enter a traditional school? There are as many solutions to homeschooling as there are families who homeschool. Talking to other homeschooling families can be extremely helpful.
Once you decide to homeschool, it is important to know your state’s rules. Regulations and oversight of homeschooling vary tremendously by state. Some states do not require registration, while others require that you register once or annually with the home educators board, and keep records of vaccinations, attendance, and a yearly standardized tests. Some states have mandated subjects while others do not. There are many national and state-based resources for learning about local homeschooling requirements; typically the requirements are not time-consuming and do not present any significant barriers.
My final piece of advice would be to find a good co-op of other homeschoolers. Not only does it provide some interaction and group learning for your child, it can give the homeschooling parent a community of like-minded friends from whom to learn about different curricula, resources, and solutions to homeschooling’s challenges. It is certainly not for everyone, but hundreds of physician families not only make it work, but love it!
Resources and References:
National Home Educators Research Institute http://www.nheri.org/research/research-facts-on-homeschooling.html
National Center for Education Statistics https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=91
North Carolina Home Educators webpage and statistics http://www.nche.com/stats
Homeschool Legal Defense Association https://www.hslda.org/laws/
Homeschooling requirements by state https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/homeschool
Some of the thoughts and ideas above were shared in the Physician Homeschoolers Facebook group. Join if you are homeschooling!